Archive for November, 2013

Letter from Wales: In the spotlight: Keith Davies AM and Nia Griffith MP

08/11/2013, 10:27:23 AM

by Julian Ruck

Earlier this week I interviewed Labour AM,  Keith Davies and Labour MP, Nia Griffith.

Both interviews set out to explore firstly, the abysmal state of education in Wales and secondly, the political tensions that exist between Cardiff and London.

To begin, allow me to observe that Mr Davies was frank, open and obviously hasn’t forgotten that a sense of humour is an essential pre-requisite for any political ambition. His parliamentary counterpart however, was an accomplished pretender to the classic political art form of how not to answer a straight forward question. An ‘Off Message’ Bob Marhsall-Andrews, Ms Griffith was most definitely not. Ex-school mam and doyen of taxpayer funded haute cuisine, the lady was more a quintessential politician.

In relation to the parlous state of education in Wales, Mr Davies fully appreciated that a lot more needed to done in respect of science and engineering at Welsh schools, universities and colleges. He also readily agreed that inferior degrees were unacceptable if Wales is to compete in the modern world. When I quoted Matthew Taylor’s recent speech at the University of South Wales where he stated unequivocally that people in Wales should be ‘enraged’ at what was being done to Welsh schoolchildren, Mr Davies expressed at the very least some thoughtful understanding.

Ms Griffith on the other hand seemed to be in chronic state of Napoleonic denial, either this or she is an aficionado of Medieval trial by ordeal? It took a pair of dental pliers for her to concede and I quote, that “standards could be improved,” albeit that the evidence is clear and irrefutable: numeracy and literacy in Wales is on a par with Rumania and Bulgaria, that Welsh universities are accepting Law and Biology students who attain the minimum grade ‘E’ at two ‘A’ Levels and that spanking new Welsh education institutions are only allocating 12% of their budgets for engineering and science. As for the Welsh Baccalaureate and GCSE, apparently “plenty of consultation” makes them superior to the rest of the country and that was that. There was also a note of desperate satisfaction when she declared proudly that 40% of youngsters in the UK are now graduates “when in our day (she and I are the same age by the way) it was 2%”


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Away from Plebgate, there’s another police conspiracy. But neither the Tories or the media want to talk about it

08/11/2013, 07:00:25 AM

by Sam Fowles

The Tories are only too willing to tolerate police corruption, so long as it’s people they don’t like who are the victims.

It’s almost Conan-Doyleesque. The blundering plods exposed by the quick wittedness of the (almost) aristocratic amateur. The emotional toll of the corrupt peelers’ betrayal, hitherto manfully concealed from the world, only revealed by the plaintive intervention of his loving daughter.

Except this isn’t a Sherlock Holmes story. This actually happened. Three police representatives have been exposed as liars after Andrew Mitchell revealed the recording he made of their meeting.

But the pious cries of corruption from Conservative MPs and their supporters in the media ring embarrassingly hollow when one considers their historic attitude to police malpractice.

The reality is that, when the victim is a rich, white, Conservative, police corruption represents a threat to our very democracy. If, however, the victim happens to be poor, black or a member of a group with which the right disagrees politically, then the thundering waves of outrage become rapidly tranquil.

They have, for example, remained positively glassy regarding the case of Mark Duggan, the man whom the police shot dead in 2011, sparking nationwide riots.

Let us, for a moment, consider the unfolding Duggan inquest.

The police, specifically three police officers involved, identified as W42, V53 and W70, claim that they followed Duggan from Tottenham to Leyton in unmarked cars and watched him pick up a package which, intelligence lead them to believe, was a firearm. They then followed him back to Tottenham until ordered to stop and detain him.


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Britain needs to be at the heart of a reformed European Union

07/11/2013, 05:10:55 PM

by Callum Anderson

“Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.”

That was president Kennedy addressing the Canadian parliament in 1961. However, to me, those words also hold particular resonance with Britain’s relationship with the European Union. As is well known, the prime minister has already made a commitment to giving the British people a referendum on British membership of the EU in 2017. The argument is set to be intense: I’d like to set out why Britain must retain its EU membership.

If Britain wants to be prosperous in the 21st century, it must engage not only with countries such as China, India and Brazil, but also with EU members. But what has the EU achieved during Britain’s membership? It has continued to maintain the peace, helped to bring down the Berlin wall and the iron curtain, and welcomed new states from across Central and Eastern Europe into the EU family. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Britain’s take advantage of our EU membership every year.

According to Eurostat, the EU’s independent statistics office, 711,151 UK citizens lived in other EU countries in 2011, whilst the British Council has stated that 9,095 UK students participated in the ERASMUS programme, the exchange programme allowing young Britons to study in other EU countries not only free of tuition, but with the help of a grant from the EU. Moreover, without the EU, British workers wouldn’t have a range of protections that they take for granted including, but not limited to: a maximum number of working hours, guaranteed breaks and protection against being forced to work long hours.

Britain and the EU are, like it or not, bound together economically. Now, there are many who say: “If only Britain left the EU, it could simply join the European Free Trade Area, thus maintaining the current economic ties, whilst freeing itself to seek free trade deals with other countries – most notably the Commonwealth countries, the United States and China.” Sounds good, right? Well, if anything ever sounded too good to be true, then this is it.

First, it is important to note that a little over half of the UK’s trade is done with the EU; it just makes no sense to leave an economic trading bloc which we are so dependent on. Were we to just leave (almost certainly in controversial circumstances), than whilst it is unlikely that we would be economically cut off, it would be too dangerous to assume that countries such as France and Germany would allow British businesses to enjoy the same advantages of market access, as it does now.


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The real reason Labour is petrified of re-opening the Falkirk inquiry

05/11/2013, 02:16:13 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Tomorrow is prime ministers’ questions. At the despatch box, when David Cameron faces Ed Miliband, political reality will collide with the la-la land Labour is living in on Falkirk.

As in July, David Cameron will use the fiasco to hammer Ed Miliband.

Labour MPs are dreading it. The Tory backbench barrackers can barely wait. Journalists are gleefully expecting great copy.

Already today, George Osborne crow-barred Falkirk into Treasury questions, such is the Tories’ eagerness to use it as a means of attacking Labour.

Come what may, the post-PMQs story tomorrow won’t be about energy or the living wage, but Ed Miliband’s leadership and the power of Unite over the Labour party.

Over the past few days the shrieks of “nothing to see here” from Labour’s high command have become ever louder and more desperate. We are long past the stage where rationality seems to drive the party’s actions.

It is politically unsustainable for the party to continue insisting all is well when figures as senior as Alistair Darling are calling for the inquiry to be re-opened and news reports related to Labour are increasingly dominated by this one issue.

And on the evidence that has emerged from the cache of over 1000 Ineos mails that were passed to the Sunday Times, the party appears to be wilfully averting its gaze. Ed Miliband was wrong today when he said that no new information had come to light on Falkirk.

Quite apart from whether key witnesses have or have not withdrawn their original complaints, if the Sunday Times e-mails are true there are several other potential rule breaches now in the public domain that merit further examination by the party.

For example, the Sunday Times reports,

“Separately, an email from Karie Murphy, the hard-left candidate Unite was trying to parachute into Falkirk, reveals a secret system that gave Labour members colour-coded star ratings based on their perceived loyalty to Unite.

It gave red stars to those considered the union’s opponents, yellow stars to female members who might back it and double green stars to those the union had specifically ‘recruited for the selection’.”

If the last phrase, “recruited for the selection” is accurate, then it seems Labour party procedures have been broken. The party rule-book is quite clear that members cannot just be recruited for selections. In Appendix 2 NEC procedural guidelines on membership recruitment and retention, the rule-book states,

“The health and democracy of the party depends on the efforts and genuine participation of individuals who support the aims of the party, wish to join the party and get involved with our activities. The recruitment of large numbers of ‘paper members’, who have no wish to participate except at the behest of others in an attempt to manipulate party processes, undermines our internal democracy and is unacceptable to the party as a whole.”

If the party was serious about its own rules then this one potential breach alone would have been cause at least for some further investigation.

But clearly the party is not interested, regardless of the damage or the new evidence that has emerged.

The question is why? Why would the Labour leadership indulge in such an apparent act political of self-harm by pretending nothing has changed on Falkirk?

The answer is that there is a far greater fear of the consequences for Ed Miliband if the inquiry is re-opened and a civil war with Unite ensues.

Beyond the potential financial cost to the party of withheld union donations, the leader’s office is scared about what will happen at the special conference next year on Ed Miliband’s proposals to reform the union link.


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Letter from Wales: Police commissioners to discuss “twitter beats” for cops to tackle trolls

04/11/2013, 07:00:32 AM

by Julian Ruck

If one was enjoying a pint in a pub or a casual stroll in a park and all of a sudden a motley bunch of cruel antagonists were to pounce with verbal abuse and barrages of weakling insult and threat, the police would jump pretty sharpish.

Not so it seems, at least where the much lowered tone and corruption of Berners-Lee intent is concerned. These pornographers of free speech can provoke suicides, breakdowns, destruction of reputations at will and all with a uniquely derisive impunity.

Democracy in action? It is time is it not, for a fresh look at these new 21st Century multi-headed monsters?

In recent times the media has been beside itself with the rampant pillaging of civilised behaviour by those who seek to make sexism, raw intimidation and vicious personal attack, veritable art forms.

All is not lost however. Readers will remember that only a few weeks ago I interviewed Dyfed Powys Police Crime Commissioner, Christopher Salmon. Following my interview, his office advise me that the Commissioner is going to discuss a new initiative with other PCC’s in an attempt to consider the potential for an online police presence tasked with patrolling internet trolling activity. Could these “twitter-beats” be the 21st century panda car equivalent of days gone by? One can only hope (or maybe not, to those of us who are old enough to remember them!), but it is at least a start.


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Under Cameron, it’s easier to become a teacher than to get a job in a burger bar

01/11/2013, 02:01:32 PM

by Kevin Brennan

At the end of what has been a busy week for Labour’s shadow education team, today exam regulator Ofqual has announced its planned changes to GCSEs. It is welcome that Ofqual want to strengthen the rigour and integrity of qualifications – but it is odd that David Cameron is doing the exact opposite when it comes to teaching standards. David Cameron’s policy of allowing unqualified teachers in our schools is damaging education standards in our classrooms- as we have seen from the case of Michael Gove’s Al-Madinah free school in Derby.

Labour would bring an end to the watering down of standards and guarantee that all teachers in state funded schools would have to become qualified. That is what this week has been about.

On Wednesday afternoon, in a fashion of which we have unfortunately come to expect from them, the Liberal Democrats performed a remarkable feat of political contortion.

Nick Clegg had surprised his own schools minister by declaring “we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”

It was a relief to hear Clegg agree with Labour policy on this issue. We have long warned of the dangers of the Government’s policy which allows unqualified teachers to teach in Free Schools and academies, and the inevitable watering down of teacher standards that it will lead to.

All this was a tad inconvenient for the Lib Dem schools minister, David Laws who just a few days earlier had passionately defended the policy of allowing unqualified teachers.

In an education select committee hearing last Wednesday, Laws was questioned about his party’s policy on this issue. Laws claimed that he supported a resolution at the Liberal Democrat conference which stated that “every child deserves to be taught by an excellent teacher and appropriately-qualified teacher, or a dedicated professional who is working towards such a qualification.” Then when closing up the debate that took place on Wednesday this week on the subject, he again indicated that he agreed with his party’s position.

It was a rapid volte face but surely welcome as it would mean that the House of Commons could pass a motion supporting having qualified teachers with Lib Dem support.


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Why I’ve left Unite

01/11/2013, 10:11:35 AM

by Jonathan Roberts

It was early in 2006 when I first joined Unite the Union (or Amicus, as it was then known).  I was active in my constituency Labour party, was running a blog and was ambitious to learn, grow and participate as fully as I could.

Soon afterwards I was encouraged to attend a residential course run by Unite to ‘educate’ those they felt may one day become a politician – as mad as the idea of my participation now sounds.  The surroundings seemed a little odd for a trade union HQ.  The huge mansion in Esher (“modelled on a French Chateau” as the Unite website describes it) was set amidst acres of sprawling Surrey countryside, slap bang in the middle of the banker belt.   It was so posh I swear it took me a week to shower off the smell of quinoa.  I don’t say that disparagingly – I’d love to live somewhere just like it.

It was a fascinating experience.  It started with a debate with German trade unionists, and moved through mock Newsnight-style grillings, writing and delivering a speech bestowing the virtues of the Labour-Union link and concluding with an interview conducted by two Labour MPs who questioned me on my ‘labourness’.

Everyone was very nice to me.  And as I was the youngest in attendance, I was genuinely grateful for the experience, not least because it prepared me for the unexpected media attention given to Thirsk and Malton at the general election in 2010, for which I was the candidate.

It was a few years later that I first publicly criticised union behaviour.  I was promptly told off by one of my fellow Esher students – didn’t I remember that a union had put me up in a mansion?  I should show some gratitude and toe the line.

That was the beginning of a journey that concluded last night when I resigned from Unite.


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Labour’s back on track on HS2, but it should never have been off it

01/11/2013, 07:00:47 AM

by Kevin Meagher

A week ago Labour was going wobbly on its support for HS2, spying, it seemed, an opportunity to discomfort the government in its efforts in selling the case for the controversial scheme.

This followed warnings from shadow chancellor Ed Balls at last month’s party conference that there would be “no blank cheque” for the £42 billion project if costs escalated. Then there was the shadow cabinet reshuffle where the strongly pro-HS2 Shadow Transport Secretary Angela Eagle was moved to make way for the more sceptical Mary Creagh.

Yet last night the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill passed its third reading with a measly 11 Labour MPs voting against, a mixture of the hard left’s usual suspects and London nimbys like Frank Dobson. The flirtation with opposing HS2 is over. The centre of gravity in the parliamentary party is resolutely behind the project – especially as the North West sends the largest contingent. This matters. As Sky News reported yesterday:

“…up to 40 MPs turned up to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s transport committee, which would usually only attract a handful of MPs, to express their anger [at creeping scepticism towards HS2]. Seventeen Labour MPs, many representing constituencies in the north, spoke out in support of HS2. Only two said anything against. Jack Straw, the former Cabinet minister, warned that he would bring a motion to the PLP if the party shifted its position.”

Now Ed Miliband is letting it be known he has asked Andrew Adonis, Labour’s last transport secretary and the man who got the ball rolling on HS2, to advise him on how to make the most of it.

This is pretty much inevitable. To have British politics divided between the pro-growth, pro-Keynesian, pro-North Tories and a Labour party seemingly committed to burnishing its credentials for fiscal hawkishness, even to the point of entrenching the south of England’s economic dominance by opposing HS2, is a paradox too far.


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